It’s a gorgeous thing when a poem arrives at a felicitous rhyme, a choice word that pops up by happenstance.

It’s a gorgeous thing when a poem arrives at a felicitous rhyme, a choice word that pops up by happenstance.

At least so it seems to me. It’s a popular misconception that rhyming verse is ‘out’. It’s not. It just has to be done with beauty and grace. It’s a matter of balancing the expected (the chime, the echo) with the unexpected (the word not anticipated).

Of course, these days, the concept of ‘rhyme’ in poetry has stretched. Now the word is often applied to the most minute assonance, the half-rhyme that’s only a quarter, or the uneasy pairing of a stressed and un-stressed syllable.

Like King John and his feeling about getting nuts for Christmas, I do like perfect rhyme (I mean ‘perfect’ only in the sense that the same stressed syllable and the same vowel sound match completely.) And yes, it can sound tired and all too guessable. But that’s why it’s difficult, though still, I think, not impossible to achieve with a degree of panache. And no, it’s not in the least ‘fashionable’ in serious poems, but someone in me – call her Matilda – does it even more, because of that.

All of this is by way of prologue to more words on Wrapper Rhymes. ‘Wrapper Rhymes’ are, you may remember, poems written 
on wrappers, following the example set by Ted Hughes, 
who wrote a Tunnocks wrapper poem in 1986. Ted on Tunnocks rhymed, and so do most of the examples being collected and displayed by Nick Asbury at

I became obsessed with these delights in the summer. ‘Obsessed’ is probably not too strong a word’ since I wrote about 23 in the space of a month, almost enough to qualify me for NaPoWriMo without even trying. But it’s not just a matter of coming up with a couple of verses that match a product. The Wrapper Rhyme has to be written on the wrapper. I had to acquire special pens, because many wrappers refuse to accept ink, as you’ll see if you go to the site to view some of the contributions. But that in itself becomes part of the point.

At the Scottish Poetry Library – where a busy book fair was held yesterday with some marvellous people and wonderful conversations – there was a discussion about poetry publishing on Friday evening. The word ‘demand’ came up. Stuart Kelly (writer and literary editor of Scotland on Sunday) suggested, rather neatly, that today’s poetry publishers were better at publishing ‘on demand’ than ‘creating a demand’ for their products.

I’m not convinced it’s a publisher’s job to create demand, though it’s certainly in the publisher’s interest to do just that, were it possible. The discussion did not go on to explore this idea but many of us assembled at the book fair  in the same venue the very next day spoke about it. Would poems be ‘in demand’ if downloadable from i-Tunes? No, Kevin Cadwallender tells me i-Tunes is less than cool with the young. Would they be in demand if it was illegal to download them? Would they be in demand if read by the author and listenable to on line? Would they be in demand if printed on cakes? (Don’t scoff, it’s being done.) Would they be in demand in holograph and framed?

Possibly. It depends who wrote them. If the writer (like Ted) becomes a scion of Literature or is en route to scion-ship, there’s something to be said for the ephemeral poem, the verse written by hand and almost (but not quite) thrown away. This idea is preserved on WrapperRhymes, where you get the poem and you get the wrapper on which it was written, by hand, in a unique, once-and-forever format.

So this week, if you want to, you can see one of mine, done on a box of Jelly Babies. I am a little too fond of Jelly Babies, so it was a very large box, half-price, bought last February (left over from Christmas). But Nick’s editorial comment brings the work a smidgeon of gravitas. Yep – naming the Jelly Babies was perhaps not the best ever marketing decision for Cadbury.

If you’re a HappenStance subscriber, this is a good point to remind you about my chocolate appeal. I’m hoping, in the distant future, to do a pamphlet or small book on a chocolate theme. There aren’t, it seems to me, enough poems about chocolate, and very few celebrating it. I’d like some. It doesn’t matter whether or not they rhyme, though it would be nice if some did, but they mustn’t be too long because each one has to fit inside a page. 16 lines or under would be good. This mouthwatering opportunity is only for HappenStance subscribers, I’m afraid, but anybody can become one.

So far, very few chocolate poems have arrived on my desk, though a couple of those that have made it are winners. The deadline is . . . er . . .  when I get enough good chocolate poems to make a full box. If your poem’s selected for this box — I mean book — , I’ll send you some copies AND a small amount of first-class chocolate – that’s the deal. And then you can write a wrapper rhyme on the wrapper. . . .


Remember the days when you would read anything? The small print on a bar of chocolate, the rubbish on a packet of cornflakes?

Remember the days when you would read anything? The small print on a bar of chocolate, the rubbish on a packet of cornflakes?

And then, some people would also write on anything. Graffiti folk on walls and bridges. Drunks on beer mats. Children on books and wallpaper. Poets on anything at all.

Scribbling memorably – a human instinct as old as print itself.

I had an emotionally turbulent week last week. However, a small calm place in the middle of this was Nick Asbury’s Wrapper Rhymes project.

From this I learned that St Andrews University, only 20 miles from my home, is home to an august body known as The Tunnocks Caramel Wafer Appreciation Society, a club which this year has no fewer than 120 members and whose president is a fourth year student of astrophysics.

The TCWAS is a whole separate entity from Tunnocks, the noble Scottish family firm which still manufactures the caramel wafers I so often eat instead of lunch.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes – the museum of the University of St Andrews is currently exhibiting a Tunnocks Caramel Wafer wrapper sporting a handwritten poem by Ted Hughes. It is one of three wrappers to inspire the bard.

And this wrapper, having inspired the poet, subsequently inspired the museum to make it a feature for exhibition, then inspired the Scottish Poetry Library to post a picture of the wrapper poem. This, in turn, led to  a Twitter conversation between the Scottish Poetry Society, Inpress Books, Glasgow Design Firm Effective Studio and Nick Asbury, of Asbury and Asbury.

Phew. The Twitter conversation (who says Twitter is mindless rubbish?) focused on the idea that wrapper poetry might be a whole new genre.

Could this be? Would you like it to be? Read on.

WrapperRhymes is about to be a whole collection of poems written 
on wrappers, following the example set by Ted Hughes. It has been launched by Nick Asbury, using a beautifully designed platform (Effektive Studio) and a lovely little Asbury piece on a Chewits wrapper.

Submissions are invited. It’s free. How could you resist?

But wait. It’s hard to write on a caramel wafer paper. The waxy surface, with smears of chocolate (who left this in the sun?) is resistant. However, it’s not impossible, as Ted demonstrated.

Between periods of turbulence, I have spent a week considering which wrappers you can write on and which you can’t. Ah, it is not as easy as in Ted’s day. Back in 1986, when y-fronts went out and boxer shorts came in, a wrapper might have been silver paper (as we called it then) underneath but a good, old, paper outer-sleeve offered its services on most confectionery products.

And now? I leapt at the opportunity of a KitKat, (which still sells with a paper sleeve as well as the shiny version) but I imagine so did several other would-be wrapper rhymers. I had to cheat with a Curlywurly, although it strikes me as just possible a CD marker might write on that slippery surface. Equally, it might not.

Green & Blacks Organic was better. I have eaten several bars this week while thinking about the possibilities. You can just about write on the waxed wrapper as well as the outer paper. In fact, this week I’ve eaten things I’ve resisted for years, just while exploring the wrapper possibilities.

But oh how things have changed! Do you realize how many chocolate bars are wrapped in a slippery sleeve that nobody could write on? We’re mainly enticed by wrappers made of plastic and aluminum laminates, a combination described by those in the know as “extremely durable, both chemically and physically”. That means not only can you not write on it (unless you cheat in some way – labels, post-its etc), but, unlike poetry, it will probably never die. (I know your alter-eco can make more things out of them, but you almost certainly won’t.)

Meanwhile, there are a few things you can still write on. I’m about to consume breakfast cereal. It comes in a box. You can write inside a box, while thinking outside it, and munching. I could probably fit an epic inside some boxes . . . .